Getting Inside Our Heads: 'The Self Illusion' by Bruce Hood vs 'Quirkology' by Richard Wiseman

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Today I thought I'd do something new with this week's review: a face off!

I'm sure that you're all hard working people who want to make their money stretch a bit further, and you're all a curious lot or else you wouldn't be here. So, if you want to learn a bit about psychology and how our minds work in all their weirdness, which would be a better investment, Quirkology or The Self Illusion?

The Self Illusion: How the Social brain Creates Identity

The Self Illusion is written by Bruce Hood, professor of Psychology in Society at the University of Bristol and aims to explore what makes up the very human feeling of an individual self. By pulling apart this concept and by arguing that it is in fact an illusion, he takes us on a fascinating journey into how our own minds and psychologies are constructed in reaction to a uncertain world where humans have learnt to be social to survive.

Some of the chapters are:

-The Most Wondrous Organ
-The Machiavellian baby
-The Looking glass Self
-The Cost of Free Will
-Why Our choices Are Not Our Own
-How the Tribe Made Me
-The Stories We Live By
-Caught in the Web
-Why You Can't See Your Self In Reflection

The Self Illusion is, in the end, more academic than Quirkology in its style, but it is still hugely interesting and very approachable, with each chapter broken down into neat and entertaining examples and anecdotes that lead to wider discussions. Because of this it makes a perfect book to dip in and out of at will, so can sit very much at home on your coffee or breakfast table.

Quirkology: The Curious Science of Everyday Lives

Quirkology is another book that would sit very well on a coffee table and seems set out to give you plenty of tidbits for interesting dinner party conversations. Richard Wiseman is Britain's only professor for the Public Understanding of Psychology and thrives in looking into the weirdest research methods, so the book is written very much with an aim to entertain and even shock with it's anecdotal chapters. The book is also nicely supported with the occasional picture and 'exercise' that you can try at home.

Some of the chapters on offer are:

-What does your date of birth really say about you? The new science of chronopsychology.
-Trust everyone but always cut the cards: the psychology of lying and deception.
-Believing six impossible things before breakfast: Psychology enters the twilight zone.
-Making your mind up: The strange science of decision-making.
-The scientific search for the world's funniest joke: explorations into the psychology of humour.
-Sinner or Saint? The psychology of when we help and when we hinder.

Overall Quirkology offers a general entertaining approach for anyone interested in the various little strange idiosyncrasies of human psychology. For any scientists it also offers up some very weird and wonderful experiments which show just how creative and dedicated the scientific method can be.

So Which Should You Buy?

If you had to pick only one, I would fall on the side of The Self Illusion every time. While Quirkology offers a general approach to the weirder sides of psychology that is doubtlessly entertaining, it's anecdotal approach and huge subject matter leaves it feeling a little jumbled and unfocused. The Self Illusion, on the other hand, hangs around a central concept and while it uses an anecdotal style and an approachable tone to keep things interesting too, it nevertheless manages to take you on a proper journey. With Quirkology things can feel a little repetitive and forgettable, but with The Self Illusion you feel, in the end, like your beliefs have been challenged and that you have learnt something valuable about how our minds work.

In the end, I think that I found Quirkology a little dull in comparison because I had already read another far superior work by Richard Wiseman along the same quirky-theme: Paranormality.Here, his style and the subject matter thrive because they are anchored to a central theme and I thoroughly recommend it: in fact I reviewed it earlier on the blog.

If you're looking for a good psychology book to sink your teeth into, The Self Illusion is sure to be a great book to have at your side that you'll keep going back to again and again.

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